Bliss Carman's Letters to Margaret Lawrence 1927-1929

Edited by D.M.R. Bentley

Assisted by Margaret Maciejewski

Letter 34

Dallas, Texas

14. November. 1927



Dear Margaret: There are such a multitude (I seem to become ungrammatical at once!) of things in your letters that clamor for delightful conversation, I hardly know where to begin. Moreover I have been rather pressed for time.

After a very good meeting at Fort Worth I came over here on Saturday to stay the weekend with friends on my way to the next reading at a small place, Commerce,1 before going to Waco. That remains the best address, while I am running about this vast State. I have half a dozen more readings before the end of the month and possibly more. Possibly I go to New Mexico also.

When I got here, there was a poetry Society in session, where I went and had to speak. A small affair.

The College2 at Fort Worth was full of genial young people. But I weary of great hotels and noise. Texas is vast and rich, but no wilderness nor desert nor mountains—and so no escape. I would flee to Santa Fé. Chiefly I am thankful for a little real money, and I hope there is some service to the audiences, though sometimes I wonder.

How delightful that you sold a story, a history. And how grand that you have read Gallion’s Reach and admire Tomlinson.3 Yes, he is a gorgeous master of prose and the innards of poetry, even though as you say this book is not a novel, hardly a tale, but enough for several tales.

A name?4 I wish I could find the very one for you! Certainly not Margaret. Margaret is always to[o] hard and chilly for my ears. Only proper for a Sister Superior. Never any charm or glamor about her. And Alexandra much too brocaded and majestic. Sandra, perhaps, but not the full name. Alexandra Lawrence is too long to be readily picked up, and is not metrically right. To go with Lawrence you should have an accent on the first syllable like Gwendolen or Guenevere or Dorothy, though none of these would do. I’ll try to think some more. But do dash ahead with fiction, we will find a name. I don’t know about the art of the unsaid, though it is a right phrase. And I know I have to leave so such unsaid. I never could have the hardihood to be autobiographic truly. I was born to silence, and inherit a painful shyness and embarrassment from my mother. It is almost impossible to speak out. Why is that? Do you know, you woman, you psychologist? I am like Villon?5 Am I? How? Why? Yes, I know, Pierce6 is ready and I have no objection. But that won’t be biography or physiography and dates—bios is life, in Greek as you know. Your hands will be on the heart strings.

What about the Celtic temperament and that book?7

I am thankful you want to write to the heart. For that is the sort of writing I love, being but indifferent clever and mostly sympathy. My dear you have my hand, hold on!

No, I did not know that November is spring among the possessed people.8 And I am not of them. There is only one spring for me and that is April in New England.

You ought to write, Margaret, you have passed the baptism of fire and grief and parting and so understand the heart.

So glad I am that you can tell me the beautiful intimate friendly things, as about the pine pillow.9 I cannot stand seeing the poor insensate familiar things surviving all about us when the loved one is away, nor to find myself in a place alone where we once have been together, No, no, it is too much.

I like the South—the desert of New Mexico or Arizona, or the tolerant genial Southern California & its Hollywood, but nothing is ever more kind to me than our Northern Winter—I mean the dry Northern Ontario.

Haven’t read Jalna,10 so cannot say.

I must go to bed now, as I have to be off early in the morning.

But I am perishing for a bit of the Desert or a Mountain.

Much too civilian, this reading business, but thank the Lord for it!



But it is quite all right for you to treasure keepsakes, my dear. Many can, and it is a comfort.

  1. At Commerce City in northeast Texas, Carman read at East Texas State Teachers College, a co-educational institution founded in 1889 (see Letters 35 and 36). [back]

  2. Texas Christian University (see Letter 33 n.2). [back]

  3. See Letter 24 n.2. [back]

  4. In a letter of November 7, 1927, Lawrence expresses her dissatisfaction with the name Margaret and suggests Alexandra as an alternative, citing its literary and numerological associations (Alexandra is the daughter of Oronthea in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, and it contains nine letters, a tripling of the triple that can be read as a synthesis of the physical, mental, and spiritual planes of existence). [back]

  5. In her November 7 letter, Lawrence likens Carman to François Villon (1431-1485), the French poet and villain who gave new life to old French poetic forms in Le Grand testament (1461) and had a seemingly miraculous ability to escape death by hanging. [back]

  6. Lorne Pierce (1890-1961), the editor of the Ryerson Press in Toronto from 1920 to 1960 (see Letter 3 n.2) and Canadian cultural nationalist, established four series in the mid-’twenties to stimulate interest and activity in Canadian literature and history: the Ryerson Poetry Chapbooks (1925-   ), Makers of Canadian Literature (1925-  ), the Ryerson Canadian History Readers (1926-   ), and the Ryerson Books of Prose and Verse (1927-  ). In 1922 he edited (with Albert Durrant Watson) Our Canadian Literature: Representative Prose and Verse and in 1926 he donated the Lorne Pierce Medal to the Royal Society of Canada, an award for distinguished service to Canadian literature. His Fifty Years of Service: a Life of James L. Hughes was published in 1924 and his Outline of Canadian Literature (French and English) in 1927. In 1929, he published William Kirby, the Portrait of a Tory Loyalist and the first of two histories of The Ryerson Press. One of the sections of his Three Fredericton Poets: Writers of the University of New Brunswick and the New Dominion (1933) is devoted to Carman, and he wrote the entry on the poet in A Standard Dictionary of Canadian Biography: the Canadian Who Was Who, ed. Charles G.D. Roberts and Arthur L. Tunnel (1934). He was Carman’s literary executor. See also C.H. Dickinson, Lorne Pierce: a Profile (1965). [back]

  7. In her letter of November 7, Lawrence tells Carman that in 1919 a friend of Albert Durrant Watson, Francis Grierson (1848-1927), gave her a copy of his Celtic Temperament, and Other Essays (1901) and pronounced her as a striking example of the Celtic type. For Lawrence’s ancestry, see Introduction xviii n.2. [back]

  8. This is mentioned by Lawrence in a November 8 postscript to her letter of November 7. [back]

  9. In her postscript of November 8, Lawrence tells Carman that when Watson died (on May 3, 1926) he was resting his head on a pillow that she had made for him of northern balsam leaves. [back]

  10. Jalna, the first of sixteen novels in the "Jalna" series by the Toronto-born writer Mazo de la Roche (1879-1961), was published in Boston in 1927. The series follows several generations of the Whiteoaks family whose lives revolve around "Jalna," a house in Clarkson, Ontario. Jalna won the Atlantic Monthly prize for the best first novel in 1927 and won immediate and enormous national and international acclaim. For contemporary Canadian opinions of de la Roche and Jalna, see John Macklem, "Who is Who in Canadian Literature: Mazo de la Roche" Canadian Bookman, 9 (September, 1927), 259-60 and Raymond Knister, "Appreciation for Jalna," Canadian Bookman, 10 (February, 1928), 54. [back]